On Earth, Peace and Goodwill Toward Men

The Morning Call wonders what really matters

We’re a little late this morning, and for that, we apologize.  But we struggled with this morning’s note.  We started maybe five or six versions, on maybe five or six subjects.  And none of them seemed especially appropriate for what will likely be the final Morning Call before Christmas.  Yes, it’s important that you know that the myth of “the emerging Democratic majority” continues to crumble under the weight of the evidence from last month’s election, even as Democrats seem more and more intent on relying exclusively on the race-based cultural politics advocated by that myth.  And yes, you should be deeply skeptical that Congress’s passage of a $900 quadrillion COVID-relief-bill will temper Americans’ frustration and anger.  And yes, you should probably know everything there is to know about the mutations in the COVID-19 virus that have made it more easily transmissible and have, in turn, completely crippled Great Britain.  And yet…

It’s not that we don’t care about these subjects.  We do.  And you should too – especially about the delusion that the stimulus and the vaccine will combine to cure all that ails the nation and its people.

The problem is that all of this is so overwhelmingly negative, so dark and despairing, at the one moment in the year when negativity, darkness, and despair are supposed to be banished, when hope is supposed to bring light and break the gloom.  Hanukkah, after all, is the Festival of Lights, a celebration commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple, a great moment in Western history.  Moreover, like all great moments in Western history, the figurative importance story of Hanukkah far surpasses the literal importance of the story of Hanukkah, as the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it:

What I find fascinating about Hanukkah — the Jewish festival of lights we celebrate at this time of the year — is the way its story was transformed by time.

It began as the simple story of a military victory, the success of the Maccabees as they fought for religious freedom against the repressive rule of the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus IV. Antiochus, who modestly called himself Epiphanes (“God made manifest”), had resolved forcibly to hellenise the Jews. He had a statue of Zeus erected in the precincts of the Temple in Jerusalem, ordered sacrifices to be made to pagan gods, and banned Jewish rites on pain of death.

A group of Jewish pietists rose in rebellion. Led by a priest, Mattathias of Modi’in, and his son, Judah the Maccabee, they began the fight for liberty. Outnumbered, they suffered heavy initial casualties, but within three years they had secured a momentous victory. Jerusalem was restored to Jewish hands. The Temple was rededicated. That is how the story is told in the first and second books of Maccabees.

However, things did not go smoothly thereafter. The new Jewish monarchy known as the Hasmonean kings themselves became hellenised. They also incurred the wrath of the people by breaking one of the principles of Judaism: the separation between religion and political power. They became not just kings, but also high priests — something earlier monarchs had never done.

Even militarily, the victory over the Greeks proved to be only a temporary respite. Within a century Pompey invaded Jerusalem and Israel came under Roman rule. Then came the disastrous rebellion against Rome (66-73 CE), as a result of which Israel was defeated and the Temple destroyed. The work of the Maccabees now lay in ruins. Some rabbis at the time believed that the festival of Hanukkah should be abolished. Why celebrate a freedom that had been lost? Others disagreed, and their view prevailed. Freedom may have been lost, but not hope.

That was when another story came to the fore, about how the Maccabees, in purifying the Temple, found a single cruse of oil, its seal still intact, from which they relit the Menorah, the great candelabrum in the Temple. Miraculously, the light lasted eight days and that became the central narrative of Hanukkah. It became a festival of light within the Jewish home symbolising a faith that could not be extinguished. Its message was captured in a phrase from the prophet Zekhariah: “Not by might nor by power but by My spirit, says the Lord Almighty.”…

Something in the human spirit survives even the worst of tragedies, allowing us to rebuild shattered lives, broken institutions and injured nations.

This, in and of itself, is a powerful and important message of hope and redemption.  And the good news, of course, is that, at this time of year, the message of Hanukkah doesn’t have to stand “in and of itself.”  It is bolstered, reinforced, and amplified by another message of hope – and another messenger.  Last night, you may have seen His star, not “rising in the East” as the Magi saw it, but in the Southwest.  The “great conjunction” of Saturn and Jupiter may not be as bright as it was 2000 years ago (as this is not a “triple conjunction”), but it is bright enough to serve as a reminder that hope is the best remedy for that which ails us.

Ironically, as we have noted before elsewhere, perhaps the most enduring and endearing contemporary presentation of this second message of hope was made on television, of all places, exactly 55 years ago.  A young boy, who is struggling with the holiday season, who feels depressed and anxious, finds himself even more bewildered by the behavior of his friends and family.  They don’t seem to understand or appreciate that the world is a strange and confusing place and that not everything can be made better by dancing to smooth, seasonal jazz.  Like many of us, he too comes close to despair, to giving up and choosing to accept the darkness and gloom.  At the very last moment, however, he is saved from this fate by his friend, who steps in to remind him of what is really important:

Lights, please.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding

in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them,

and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold,

I bring you good tidings of great joy,

which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,

which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe

wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the

heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,

goodwill toward men.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

We don’t mean to sound hokey or preachy or trite or…whatever.  But we also don’t want to leave before Christmas on a sour note – which is just about all that there is in the “news” these days.

Have a Merry Christmas, and we’ll see you next week.

Addendum:

We had planned to make an announcement and an appeal this week, before breaking for Christmas.  (Nota bene: this is not exactly a secret.  It’s a good thing, to which we have alluded many times before.)

We have decided, however, to hold off on the announcement for a few days at least, because we haven’t worked out the final details yet, and we’d like to be able to give them to you when we make our statement.

We have already contacted some of you directly and will be contacting others soon.  If you would like more information and would like it before the end of the year (for various reasons), please contact me at soukup@thepoliticalforum.com or (402)261-3175.

Thanks much.

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